Camping 101 – selecting campsites

F82FCB37-0FD9-4D24-99E4-949350E7F128It’s Saturday night and you are sitting around the campfire with your friends with a drink in your hand. You just had dinner; everyone is having a great time, telling stories, roasting marshmellows, enjoying the starry sky and the fresh air. The next morning you wake up in your tent to the sound of birds chirping, and nothing resembles the rush of our Monday through Friday lives. This is probably the main reason most people go or want to go camping: to get away from the every day stress and relax for the weekend.

In this post I’m going to get you started on your camping adventures. Even if you have never camped before, you should have an idea of what type of campsites there and what you might want to look for.

In the next post I’ll cover the main component of camping: shelter. In posts coming up I’ll be talking about all other important aspects of camping, so stay tuned.

Types of campgrounds:

There is a huge range of camping you can do, let’s start with the most primitive:

Dispersed camping. This camping is done basically anywhere where it is allowed (you can camp in any national forest, and on most public lands unless it says no camping). With this type of camping there are no bathrooms, no running water, no trashcans, no benches, no fire rings, it is basically how nature is in its original form. You must bring everything yourself. And take it with you.

Free campsites:  these can range from having nothing but a fire ring, may or may not have vault bathrooms, may or may not have benches, and most will not have running water. There are usually no trash cans. You can stay up to 14 days in the same campsite.

Fee based campsites: these usually charge anything between $14 – 40 a night will have all the above mentioned amenities, some might even have flush toilets, sinks and bathrooms, even showers, or electric hook ups for RVs. The more convenient a site is the more it will cost. You usually have to reserve and pay for the site in advance (online) although a lot of sites will have a couple “first come first serve” sites. Some locations that are very popular fill up fast.

A2A4AD2A-EB1B-4F60-8FD9-200281A780D0The picture to the right shows a free campsite with a bench and a fire ring. There was a vault bathroom nearby. I loved this site as this was a stand alone site, there was no one around for miles.

RV camping :  This means you bring all the comfort there is, and you pay for the space, water and electric hookup. Of course you can bring a campe to a free or fee based site and use the amenities they have. (In this post I will not be discussing RV camping)

A lot of campgrounds have seasons, some might close between September 30th and the spring (as late as May) some are open year round.

Important! Before you pack up, one more thing: most campgrounds require a campfire permit. Don’t worry, it’s nothing complicated. Google “campfire permit” n your state. In California, you watch a short video, answer 6 questions and there you go, you got your permit. You can print it out or just take a screenshot with your phone. I have been asked for my campfire permit more times than for my hunting license and this was during hunting season, with a rifle in my hand. The fines are substantial if you have a fire but no permit The permit is free and is valid Jan 1st – Dec 31st.  So don’t forget.

So now you found a place where you can camp or you’ve arrived at a campground. Which spot do you choose?

  • Definitely as flat and level as possible. You will feel even the slightest angle when you’re asleep, either buy sliding down or rolling over. Not fun.
  • Make sure you are not in the way of any possible flowing water.
  • Look for at least some shade if you can
  • If the site has other people, consider what you like: be away from people, or close-by. If there is a bathroom, do you want to be close by (which means people will be walking by all the time), far, or in between.
  • I like to camp next to a river or at least a creek. This means I have unlimited water available to put out the fire, clean and for my dog to drink. Putting out the campfire requires a lot of water each time.


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